A pilot project intended to control the costs of civil litigation, born out of Lord Justice Jackson’s reforms, will launch nationwide in October following the success of the first stage of the programme in Birmingham.
Speaking in London last week, the judge confirmed that the Civil Procedure Rules Committee last month approved a year-long costs management pilot in every Mercantile Court and Technology and Construction Court (TCC).
The likelihood is that costs management – one of the judge’s less controversial reforms – will then be rolled out to other courts. An initial pilot has been running in the Birmingham TCC and Mercantile courts.
The pilot centres on the idea that the parties involved in civil litigation draft a detailed costs budget during each stage of court proceedings. The court then has authority to approve the budget or revise it accordingly.
The process is intended to keep costs in check and potentially eliminate the need for detailed assessment at the end.
The Senior Costs Judge, Peter Hurst, chaired the working party which has produced the practice direction to underpin the pilot.
Lord Justice Jackson told the annual costs conference of Taylor Rose Solicitors and costs consultants Jaggards that the general feedback from practitioners involved in the Birmingham pilot had been “more positive than negative” because all parties can get a decent idea of the costs and budget from an early stage.
There is also a costs management pilot running in defamation cases. Speaking earlier this year at an event hosted by the Association of Costs Lawyers, Master Hurst admitted that the pilot “is throwing up certain problems”, although he said that was the point of having pilots.
“On the one hand, both sides may put in high estimates of costs, but neither side takes any point on the size of the other’s budget,” he said. “This may result in budgets being approved which are in fact unreasonable and disproportionate.”
Another Jackson pilot likely to be rolled out introduces the provisional assessment of bills of costs of £25,000 or less. The district judge makes an assessment on the papers, but a party can request an oral hearing if unhappy with the decision – albeit at risk of a penalty if they fail to beat the provisional assessment by at least 20%. The district judge overseeing the pilot, Robert Hill, has said it is working smoothly.